Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Growing Cumbers Inside

Cucumber with bloom

 Win some, lose some when you're experimenting, but it's fun to experiment, especially when it comes to growing food and pushing the limits of production. This year, one of the things I wanted to try was growing a greenhouse cucumber so I could harvest at least one way before I could even plant any outside let alone harvest. 

I used to start all my seeds in the kitchen under grow lights, but when I was finally able to get a greenhouse, I plonked for it and have never looked back.  It lets me start my own varieties -- giving me the pleasure of their company and the joy of watching them grow until I can get back into the garden. In addition, the greenhouse's oddly bright light saves me in February’s grey days. 

My small, south-facing greenhouse is built from a kit that is anchored with ground screws and sits on a dug, cinder-block-framed foundation filled first with crusher run followed by pea gravel. That allows every bit of water, which is drawn from the rain barrels at the corner of the garage, to drain through and go back through the earth to be filtered and used again.

Cuke in Jackson Perkins pot
I bought seed for what were billed by the seed company (Johnnys, I think -- I should know but I can't find my records at the moment) as greenhouse cucumbers. In late February, I started them in organic seed-starting mix in a 6-celled flat, and put them to germinate on a heat mat set to 70 degrees. They came up within about 5 days, and as soon as they had a set of true leaves, (about 2 weeks into it), I transplanted them into a flat with larger cells using organic potting soil, and put them back on the heat mat. I transplanted them twice more -- once into a 4-inch plastic pot that I had sterilized (as I do every year with every pot or flat I use), and stopped the heat mat for a kind of in-house hardening off. The next transplanting (the fourth from seeding) was the final one. One plant went into a 12-inch wide X 10-inch high pot in organic potting soil. Two others went into 14-inch by 12-inch sterilized heavy plastic pots that I got a couple of shrubs from Jackson Perkins in years ago. Another went into a 10X10-inch black plastic greenhouse pot whose outside I had spray-painted blue for a change of pace. Three pots have veg ladders inserted, one is on a greenhouse table and reaches to pathetically sprawl on a wooden trellis I wedged beside it. The last plant in a large pot went to a friend. I lightly fed every two weeks or so with organic vegetable food.

I was looking forward to pollinating the blossoms with a Q-tip (it takes several visits by whatever pollinator to produce a full-fledged cuke), but because I have automatic vents at the top of the greenhouse, and open the door on warm days, the insects took care of pollination.

The first cuke, about the size of one of Churchill’s cigars, seemed ready in mid-April, so I clipped it off and sliced it with great pleasure into a Greek salad. There are probably two dozen more little cigar-like cukes still slowly growing in the greenhouse. It may not be much quantity-wise, but it’s incredibly satisfying and delicious -- they are very thin-skinned and cucumber-y in flavor -- and I feel insufferably virtuous.

Greek salad
Jeanette, to whom I gave the last plant and who also has a small greenhouse, phoned last week to ask when she should harvest her first cuke. I told her to do it right then.  I always pick the first offering of any vegetable or fruit a little early because I think it encourages the plant to produce more. Jeannette was thrilled – not only to eat a cucumber that she'd grown herself (in April!) but was also thrilled to discover when she was harvesting that she has about 6 more in various stages of development. 

You could probably grow a greenhouse cucumber in a sunny room, too, though you’d probably also have to hand-pollinate, an exercise that illustrates what a gift we have in pollinators and another reason to be sure to plant for them in the garden or in whatever space you can.

Quick and Easy Greek Salad

Juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt, pepper and dash of sugar
about 1/4 cup olive oil
Whisk this together in a small bowl.
grape tomatoes
chunked cuke
sliced scallion
chunked sweet pepper and some mild hot pepper
lemon basil, if you've got it, parsley or something else if not
1 handful of crumbled feta or goat cheese
black olives

Toss all vegetables, cheese and herbs in dressing. It's great with a couple of slices of really good baguette or stuffed into a pita pocket.


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